While b-movie venues were closing, the independent film movement was enjoying a growth period. An example of this was the crossover between low-budget genre films and arthouse pictures. One of the more recognised b-movie auteurs of the 70’s, David Cronenberg, had entered a new realm, in terms of budget, when he made the $3.5 mn Scanners in 1980. He later raised his own bar even more with the $10 mn Crash. While the 1996 flick wasn’t really A-grade, it wasn’t B-level, either. The imagery in the film, however, was another thing entirely.
By the dawn of the millennium, the cost of a typical American feature had sat over $50mn for three years. Of the top 10 U.S. box office movies of 2005, three were adaptions of fantasy novels for children. It wasn’t a great year for Corman, who produced just a single movie, and that wasn’t even released to American cinemas, which was the case with the majority of films he was involved in around that time.
Three fantasy blockbusters from 2017, Shrek The Third, Spider-Man 3, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End each opened in more than 10,000 screens. Big-budget movies continued to succeed in territories that had traditionally been the home of B-movies. The continual viability of B-movies was in doubt.
More recent trends in the industry, however, suggest that something that looks like a traditional A-B split in major studio production is making something of a comeback, with the gap being bridged by a fewer number of “programmers”.
Fox Searchlight produced Little Miss Sunshine for $8 mn, for example. Fox Searchlight is the pseudo-indie subsidiary of the major studio. While, budget aside, the Sunshine doesn’t fit what we know to be a B movie, it wouldn’t be the first time that we’ve seen the type of movie that the term has referred to undergo a drastic change.
The fan-made film may be regarded as being the most widespread version of a B movie today. In 2002, Lucasfilm established an annual awards ceremony for non-commercial fan-made films, and even arranged to show then on the Web via AtomFillms, which MTV Networks acquired in 2006.
The 40-minute Star Wars: Revelations (2005) was produced for $20,000 and has been downloaded by millions of fans. Similar such projects are made as episodes set in the universes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek. The development in fan culture has been partly inspired by the straight-to-video market, with products proving less popular and achieving less respect from mainstream audiences.
Since 2006, a production company called The Asylum has made low-budget films that were influenced by big-budget movies that have largely replaced B movies in cinemas. The firm produces what was described by one critic as “mockbusters”.
“Mockbusters” are basically cheap imitations of major studio movies that go straight to video. Transmorphers, for example, mocks Transformers. Another example would be the 2007 movie Grindhouse from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino which references a number of exploitation styles that were seen from the later 1960s to the early 1980s.